Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Servicing the Car

Today is one of those days I dread almost above all others.

I have to take Agnes's car in for repair.

You might not think this is such a terrifying event in and of itself, but trust me: it is.

First of all, this isn't just any car. It's a supercharged 1996 Pontiac Bonneville SSEi ("Luxury with attitude," according to the old ad campaign). It goes from zero to jail in about 4.2 seconds, has front leather Recaro seats that recline nearly flat (not so good if you're the one in the back seat), and gets surprisingly good gas mileage for a car with an engine the size of an average Toyota. It's very comfortable on long drives. Agnes loves it.

And almost anything you do to it in the way of maintenance ends up costing about the annual GDP of Botswana.

Agnes, wonderful lady that she is, tends to be profoundly suspicious of automobile service people. Throbbing veins stand out in her forehead when I tell her the estimate for whatever repairs are required. If large chunks of the car haven't fallen off, or flames aren't coming out of places she doesn't expect to see flames, she's convinced the dealer service folks are trying to sell us unneeded repairs. I can always expect a thorough grilling about whether or not the repairs they want to make are legitimate or not. Since my comfort level with transportation technology maxed out with the supercharged oxcart (two oxen), it's not easy for me to convincingly explain to her that we need to do certain things.

Nowadays, of course, with automakers desperate to sell new cars, I have a sneaking suspicion that they perhaps do ratchet up the cost of maintaining older cars to make you think it's more economical to take on a new monthly car payment instead (Dave Barry used to write about repairmen who would send their assistants back to the office to fetch more zeroes for the estimate whenever he came in). And I'm not sure about those manuals they say they use to calculate how long it takes to do a particular repair...who decides on those figures, anyhow? When you're paying $87,694.99 per hour for labor, it's a legitimate question. And there are, of course, all the extra charges...over the years, the average auto repair bill has started to look like the average cell phone bill, loaded with fine-print charges that spring up on each visit ("used tire disposal fee," "expendable shop material charge," "Hugo Chavez Dale Carnegie Institute tuition," "hazardous materials disposal fee," "mechanics' bail bond fund reimbursement," and so on).

And so I sigh deeply and prepare to drive across town to the last surviving Pontiac dealer, who at this moment is probably sending a flunky out to buy the donuts they put out in the customers' waiting room.

I can eat a lot of donuts for $87,694.99 per hour.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



Purple Flowers said...

Good Luck with the car repair today. I laughed almost all the way through this post.

Amanda said...

Uh Oh! It definitely doesn't sound like its going to be a fun day.

John A Hill said...

Bring in new car brochures from several other dealerships to read while your waiting. Set them on the counter and announce that you may just have to break down and pony up the money for a hybrid Prius while you turn in the keys.

Maybe they'll try to convince you that it would be cheaper to spent a couple hundred bucks on repairs rather than take on a car payment to somebody else!

wv: exhinge..broken door hinge

michelle said...

i hope its a quick fix, and you are not stuck there all day (or that they have to keep the car for weeks on end... like VW did the last time I took my car in)

Leslie David said...

I'm suspicious of dealers, having had them try and bs me because I'm a woman and what could I possibly know about the cost of car repairs? Fortunately for me, Bobby Kapoor, who is extremely well known by long-term Restonites and a fixture in the community has serviced every car I've owned--the Ford Escort, the Honda CRV and the Ford Focus. I know if he tells me something needs to be done he's not trying to drum up business. The year his shop was closed because of a fire--some idiot in a stolen truck ran it into his station and set it on fire, I had to trust the dealership, which I likened to going to a whorehouse--you're going to get screwed either way, you just don't know how much it's going to cost.

Anonymous said...

Bill...that car is older than your granddaughter! Your repairs are probably going to be higher than the Blue Book value of the car. Repairs are not an issue when it's under warranty. Think it's time to break down and give that woman some respectable wheels!

Mike said...

Zero to jail - Good one.

Wv: ansurby - misuse of a preposition.

fiona said...

Repair Shops and Funeral Directors have ye by the test-aye-cals.
Who's gonna argue with them?

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Now whyever is Agnes suspicious of car repair people?

Bilbo said...

Purple Flowers - glad you enjoyed it! Just be glad you can't see my face as I contemplate the bill...

Amanda - right you are!!

John - not a bad idea...too bad I didn't think of that before I went!

Michelle - luckily, I didn't have to wait - they took me to the metro so I could go for work. The #$@%'s didn't have any donuts, anyhow.

Leslie - I am positively SHOCKED that a classy lady like you knows words like "whorehouse"!

Anonymous - If she's willing to stick with an old wreck like me, I don't think she'll worry about needing "respectable" wheels.

Mike - it's even original!

Fiona - (crosses legs tightly) I guess you're right.

Jean-Luc - it may have something to do with the vast amounts of money we keep giving them...